previous next

Errors of Omission


The commonest kind of omission is that known as Haplography, by which one only of two identical or similar words is written and the other is left out. In Virgil G. iv. 311, for example, “miscentur, tenuemque magis magis aera carpunt,” some MSS. offer tenuemque magis aera, omitting the second magis.

This is an error for which there is great scope in the text of an author like Plautus, who loves to pile up phrases like hic hinc huc transit, and affects assonances like male malus, suavi suavitate. So prone are scribes to this error that I believe that in fifty per cent. of the lines of Plautus, where the same word is repeated or two almost identical words stand side by side, some MS. or other will be found to omit one of the pair. There is therefore every justification for an editor who emends the defective metre of a line by the insertion of a word before or after a word of similar appearance.

Omission of name of speaker in dialogue

A not infrequent case of this error in the plays of Plautus is when in a dialogue the remark of one speaker ends with the name of the other speaker in the vocative case. Here in the original the voc. would be immediately followed by the same name, written in full or with contraction, as a “nota personae,” to indicate the speaker of the next remark. An example will be found in Epid. 553, where the two speakers are Philippa and Periphanes. The lines begins with fabulata's, a remark of Periphanes; then Philippa says mira memoras, Periphane, to which Periphanes replies em istuc rectius. The line seems to be preserved rightly in A: “fábulata's. Míra memoras, Périphane. Em istue réctius”; but the minuscule MSS. omit Periphane, the word being regarded as a “nota personae” and not as a part of the line. Many defective lines in Plautus which are divided between two speakers have been successfully emended on this principle.

Omission of a syllable or a letter

Sometimes it is not a whole word that is omitted through haplography, but a repeated syllable or even letter. For example, Mil. 54 is rightly written in A thus: “ATPEDITASTELLIQVIAERANTSIVIVIVERENT,
” that is “at péditastelli quía erant, sivi víverent,
” “they were mere tag-rag-and-bobtail infantry, so I let them live.” The repetition of the syllable vi proved a stumbling-block to the scribe of P, who wrote si viverent for sivi viverent, leaving a hiatus in the metre (between quia and erant). We may be sure, though we have not the testimony of A to help us, that it is a similar error which has obscured the name of Plautus in Merc. 10,eadém Latine Mércator Maccí Titi”, where the repetition of the three similarly - written syllables (see ch. vi. § 1) ci-ti-ti led to the corruption mactici in P—a corruption faithfully preserved by B, but in CD changed to mattici. An instance from the original of CD is Pseud. 246,quid hóc est? quis ést qui morám mi occupáto”, where moram mi, probably written in the archetype1 morammi, became in the original of CD moram, with loss of the pronoun.

A particularly common case is the omission of the final letter of a word when the following word begins with the same letter. Thus the words sic cogis, written siccogis, would run great danger of being miscopied sicogis (si cogis), me experti would become mexperti, and so on.

Omission of unintelligible word,

The omission of a word, when due to haplography, is not hard to rectify. But omission is often due to other causes. Sometimes a scribe would deliberately omit a word which he did not understand or which he suspected of being a corruption, and would leave a blank space for it, meaning the corrector2 of the MS. to insert it at the time of revision.3 The omission of his cerebrum uritur (Poen. 770) in B is perhaps to be explained in this way; for the fact that CD have the words (in the corrupt form hisce Crebro auritur) shows us that they stood in the archetype.

Omission of Greek word

Many mediaeval scribes were ignorant of the Greek alphabet; and when a Greek word occurred in their original, written in Greek and not Roman letters, they left it for the corrector to supply. Hence the blanks in a twelfth-century Leyden MS. of Aulus Gellius, which are usually accompanied by a marginal note gr[aeca] (see Hertz's Introduction p. lviii).

Omission of small word not necessary to sentence

A common case of omission in MSS. of Latin authors is the omission of small, unimportant words, pronouns, particles, and the like, which are not necessary for the apprehension of the sense of the sentence. This plays a great part in the MSS. of Plautus; for this author delights in the otiose use of personal pronouns (ego, tu etc.) or particles (vero, nam etc.), which a scribe who copied clause by clause and not word by word was very prone to omit. In Bacch. 134, for instance, “ibidem égo meam operam pérdidi, ubi tuam”, the ego is retained by B, but was dropped in the original of CD. That B is right we see from the quotation of this line by Charisius, who quotes it with ego; but the absence of the pronoun leaves no trace on the sense or metre of the line; and there were probably several lines with this error in P, which afford us no possibility of detecting the omission. A large number of cases of hiatus have been removed by Ritschl from the text by the insertion of small words of this kind into the lines as they are presented in our minuscule MSS. Bacch. 1170 may serve as example. The reading of all our minuscule MSS. is “senex óptime quantumst ín terra, sine hoc exorare ábs te”, leaving the metre (anapaestic) defective. Ritschl restored the metre by inserting me after sine:sine me hóc exorare ábs te”. The liability of small words such as pronouns and prepositions to be omitted, through the practice of joining them in writing with longer neighbouring words, has been already mentioned in ch. i. § 4: so that editors are justified in resorting to the insertion of words of this kind to remove a hiatus or to supplement the defective number of syllables in a line.

Omission of word due to stain on page of archetype

Another cause of the omission of a word or several words or merely part of a word was the fact that it was illegible in the archetype owing to the presence of a stain on the page. The omission of the illegible word would be indicated in the first copy by a lacuna, but in subsequent copies all indication might disappear. The most famous instance of a “blot on the page” is the Bodleian Greek MS. of Arrian's “Dissertations of Epictetus,” where a large portion of the centre of a page (fol. 25 r.) has been made illegible apparently by the pressure of some heavy weight, the leg of a chair perhaps. All other existing MSS. of the “Dissertations” are copied, ultimately or immediately, from this archetype, and omit either the illegible words alone or the whole passage, some with indication that there is a lacuna, others without any indication of the kind. A photograph of the page in question is appended to the Teubner edition of the “Dissertations” (Leipzig 1894).

Omission due to hole in leaf of archetype

In the Casina we find in all or some of our minuscule MSS. blank spaces left at regular intervals, indicating the omission of words. At the same intervals we find lines in which no lacuna is indicated in our MSS., but which present a defective number of syllables, a word being patently omitted at the beginning of one line and at the end of another. Omissions of this kind may be referred without hesitation to a hole in the leaf of some archetype; and if we count the number of lines in these intervals, we can estimate the number of lines on a leaf and (by halving that number) on a page of this archetype.4

Causeless omission of a word

Where the omission of a word is not due to a blot on the page or a hole in the leaf of the archetype, the omitted word may in the great majority of cases be supposed to be either (1) a word similar to a neighbouring word or identical with it, as in the instances quoted above (<magis> magis, male <malus>), or (2) an unusual form, such as a Greek word, or (3) a small word unimportant to the sense of the sentence, as in <ego> meam operam perdidi. But we must not forget that a word is often omitted from no other apparent cause than the carelessness of the scribe. The omission of juris in the original of CD in Poen. 586: hódie juris cóctiores nón sunt, qui lités creant”, does not come under any of the classes which have been mentioned, and is probably a quite inexcusable piece of negligence on the part of the writer. So in a passage of Nonius (21. 18) the scribe of the Laurentian MS. has passed over the word genus, though it is written plainly in his original, the Leyden MS.

Confusion with similar words

The omission also of a syllable or a letter, though usually due to haplography (§ 3) or to the confusion of one word with another of similar appearance, e.g. filia for facilia (ch. v), or to the fact that the syllable was expressed by a contraction symbol, e.g. piratus for periratus (ch. vii. § 2), is occasionally merely a case of illiterate copying. In Virg. A. iv. 491, for example, MSS. offer descere for descendere; in G. iii. 4 im for jam; in G. iii. 154 arior for acrior; in A. vi. 708 indunt for insidunt.

Omission of a line or passage

The omission of a word like malus or magis in the examples male <malus>, <magis> magis, may have been intentional. It was unintentional if the eye of the writer passed at the moment of writing from the one group of letters to the other similar or identical group. But it was intentional if the writer regarded male malus as a miswriting, left uncorrected in the original (see ch. iv. § 3), and magis magis as an error of dittography (ch. iv. § 4). About the omission of a line or passage there is seldom this doubt. In the great majority of cases it is due to two lines having had the same ending, so that the eye of the copyist, as he was finishing the one line, wandered to the ending of the other. In the Miles Gloriosus v. 554 ends with the words quod viderim, and so does v. 556: “fateór. Quid ni fateáre id ego quod víderim?
Et ibi ósculantem meum hóspitem cum ista hóspita
vidísti. Vidi: cúr negem quod víderim?

” The consequence is that vv. 555-6 were omitted in P, and would have been lost to us if we had not the testimony of A for this passage. The same thing has happened in a passage of Horace,

teque dum procedis, io Triumphe!
non semel dicemus, io Triumphe!
civitas omnis dabimusque divis tura benignis,

C. iv. 2. 49 sqq.:
where certain MSS. omit v. 50. And it is an error of very common occurrence in MSS. of all authors. St. Jerome, commenting on a passage of the Prophet Jeremiah (xxx. 14):propter multitudinem iniquitatis tuae, dura facta sunt peccata tua. Quid clamas super contritione tua? insanabilis est dolor tuus; propter multitudinem iniquitatis tuae et propter dura peccata tua feci haec tibi”, explains the omission in the Septuagint of the words from quid clamas to iniquitatis tuae in this way, but supposes the omission to have been intentional (“videlicet quia secundo diciturpropter multitudinem,” etc., et qui scribebant a principio additum putaverunt”).

It is extraordinary how trifling a case of homoeoteleuton may lead to a lengthy omission. For example, the mere occurrence of the syllable que in two similarly-ending lines (v. 507 and v. 509) of the speech of an undutiful son in the Bacchides,nam jám domum ibo atque áliquid surrupiám patri.
id istí dabo. ego istanc múltis ulciscár modis.
adeo égo illam cogam usque út mendicet méus pater,

” has been enough to occasion the loss of the intervening words in the Ambrosian Palimpsest, which presents the passage in this form: “nam jám domum ibo atque út mendicet méus pater
”, —a line which, curiously enough, is metrically correct, and which, so far as metre is concerned, offers no indication that anything has been lost.

The case of mere words or syllables being omitted through homoeoteleuton is almost as common. Manuscripts of Aulus Gellius i. 4. 8 offer enutabatque for enodabat dijudicabatque. And in

sed palam captis gravis, heu nefas heu

, the repetition of the syllable -is has caused the omission of captis in some MSS.

Other causes for omissions

Of the causeless omission of a line, like the causeless omission of the word juris in the passage quoted above (§ 9), an example will be found in Cas. 376—a line which was omitted, for no apparent reason, in the original of BD (the archetype of VEJ, p. 7), and which would have remained unknown to us had not the corrector of B (p. 41) added it in the margin.

A change of copyist may be accompanied by the omission of a line or lines. At Merc. 961, for example, one of the copyists employed on the archetype ended his task. The new copyist began his task at v. 963 instead of v. 962, but rectified his error immediately, with the result that in our MSS. v. 962 follows v. 963. If the original of EJ began a new page, like B, at Epid. 271 nunc occasiost faciundi etc., the omission in EJ of the preceding lines (four in our editions, between two and three in the archetype) may be due to the fact that one of the copyists of the original laid down his pen too soon, before he had quite reached the end of the portion allotted to him.

Some editors have attempted to reconstruct the archetype of MSS. of authors on the supposition that accidentally-omitted lines would naturally be the top or bottom lines of a page, lines occupying this position being liable to be over-looked by a scribe, or to become stained and illegible, or to be cut off by a binder. But the correctness of this supposition is doubtful.

Omission of initial letter

The initial letter of a verse or chapter was usually painted, and would be left by the scribe for the rubricator or miniator to fill in. In many MSS., e.g. the Codex Ursinianus (D) of Plautus, these letters were never supplied, with the result that a copyist often wrongly emended the deficiency.5 This is why we find in MSS. of Hor. C. i. 19. 11 Aversis and Versis for Et (probably written ē, ch. vii. § 1versis; C. i. 18. 15 Attollens for Et tollens; C. iv. 5. 7 Effulsit for Affulsit.

List of Examples

Additional examples of omission:—

(1) of word by Haplography:

(2) of syllable by Haplography:

(3) of unintelligible word:

(4) of small, unimportant word:

(5) of line:

(6) of word, through homoeoteleuton:

In Nonius 67. 25 (a passage of Varro) “quibus erant pecuniae satis, locupletis, adsiduos”, the similar ending of the two words satis and locupletis has caused the scribe of the Laurentian MS. to omit the first, satis, though both stand in the Leyden MS., of which the Laurentian is a copy.

The following corrupt lines I would emend on the supposition that their error is the loss of a word by haplography:—

The word hominis (written hois with a line above, see ch. vii. § 5) may have been lost after hujus (hoius) in lines like:

The word ego (often confused with eo, ch. v. § 12) may have been lost after -eo of video in Most. 1120séd eccum tui gnatí sodalem vídeo <ego> huc incédere.

In Merc. 319, where old Demipho is excusing himself for falling in love, A offers apparently: “humánum amarest átque id vi obtingit deum.
” But P has: “humanum amarest, humanum autem ignoscere est.
” Perhaps the passage originally ran: “humánum amarest, húmanum autem ignóscerest.
humánum (? ego patior), átque id vi obtingít deum.

In the Menaechmi, the Latin Comedy of Errors, at v. 278, P offers: “Menacchme, salve. Di te amabunt, quisquis ego sim.

But A shows two lines of which only the beginnings6 MENaechM and QVISQVISd are legible. I would restore the lines thus: “Menaéchme, salve. te amabunt, quísquis es.
Quisquís! deliras. nón tu scis quis égo siem?

The eye of the scribe of P seems to have wandered from the quisquis of v. 278 to the quis immediately below, in v. 279. In another passage of the same play (vv. 163 sq.) one of the Menaechmi hands the Parasite a cloak, and asks him if he can by smelling it guess who the owner is. After the line: “écquid tu de odóre possis, síquid forte olféceris”, P has the single line: “facere conjecturam captum sit collegium”; but A shows two lines of which only the first half can be read: “FACERECOIECTVRAmCVMi
” Here the eye of the scribe of P may have wandered from the conjecturam of v. 164 to the same or a similar word in v. 165, though no one has yet succeeded in making a satisfactory guess about the intervening words.

In Truc. 38, the famous comparison of lovers to fish caught in a net: “dum huc, dum illuc reteor impedit,
” the corruption or of the MSS. may be due to a blot having obscured the rest of the word in the original. I would restore to the passage the word orata, a goldfish (Festus 202 Th.), and read: “dum húc, dum illuc réte oratas ímpedit,
” with the same metrical hiatus of dum as in Cas. 612 of cum:cum hác, cum istac, cúmque amica ctiám tua.

The missing word in Most. 802 (bacchiac metre) began with s. Was it supersedere?miséricordiá supersedére hominem opórtet.

Aul. 406 (the opening line of the scene) begins in the MSS. with the word Optati, which does not suit the sense. Some interjection seems to be required: “Optaticives, populares, incolae, accolae, advenae omnes,
dáte viam qua fúgere liceat, fácite totae pláteae pateant.
” I fancy it was Attatae, written with a common misspelling Aptatae (cf. p. 71) in the archetype, which in the original of our MSS. appeared as ptatae or ptati (the latter a grammatical correction, ch. i. § 9), with the initial letter left unsupplied by the “rubricator.”

1 On the loss of small words which were joined in writing to longer neighbouring words see ch. i. § 4, and on the contraction mi for mihi below, ch. vii. § 2.

2 In the “scriptorium” of every monastery there was an official, known as the “corrector,” whose duty was to revise a MS. as soon as it had been written, and collate it with its original or with some other MS. of the same work. The “corrector” of the first eight plays in B I believe to have used in his revision not the actual original from which B (as well as D) was copied, but the archetype itself, the original of the original of BD (see p. 7 above). In the same way the Laurentian MS. of Nonius has had valuable readings introduced into its text by a “corrector,” who may have used for this purpose the actual archetype of all our MSS. (Class. Rev. x. 16). “Mixed” texts, which cannot be referred to one or other of two “families” of MSS., are to be explained by the supposition that a text copied from an original of one family has been corrected, either at the moment of its production or later, from a MS. of another family.

3 In B these omissions are indicated by a small d (for deest) in the margin. The letter has usually been erased by the “corrector” when he added the word required (e.g. Cas. 361), but traces of it sometimes remain (e.g. Cas. 64, 347).

4 The “gappy” archetype of Plautus was not the minuscule archetype P, but an earlier one. If we consider how soon indications of a lacuna vanish in the transmission of a text, we may be disposed to believe that the archetype in question was that archetype in capitals (p. 8) from which P was directly copied. It had from nineteen to twenty-one lines on a page (A has nineteen lines on a page); and it is not impossible that its gappy condition was due to its being a papyrus and not a vellum MS. (For details of these lacunae see Schoell's Introduction to the Casina pp. x sqq.

5 The Renaissance MS., F, which is a copy of D (last twelve plays), furnishes many examples. An amusing one is in Most. 532, where a money-lender comes on the stage complaining of the bad times: “Sceléstiorem ego ánnum argento faénori
numquam úllum vidi, quam híc mihi annus óbtigit.

” The scribe of F, taking celestiorem of D for the word caelestiorem, supplies as the initial letter of the line the interjection O: O celestiorem, etc., completely reversing the sense of the passage.

6 I write in capitals the letters which seem certain.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide References (60 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (56):
    • Plautus, Mostellaria, 2.2
    • Plautus, Mostellaria, 3.1
    • Plautus, Mostellaria, 3.2
    • Plautus, Mostellaria, 5.1
    • Plautus, Poenulus, 3.2
    • Plautus, Poenulus, 3.5
    • Plautus, Poenulus, 4.2
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 1.3
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 4.3
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 4.7
    • Plautus, Rudens, 2.5
    • Plautus, Trinummus, 4.2
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 4.491
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 6.708
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.154
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.4
    • Vergil, Georgics, 4.311
    • Old Testament, Jeremiah, 30.14
    • Plautus, Amphitruo, 2.2
    • Plautus, Asinaria, 2.4
    • Plautus, Aulularia, 3.1
    • Plautus, Aulularia, 3.2
    • Plautus, Bacchides, 1.2
    • Plautus, Bacchides, 3.4
    • Plautus, Bacchides, 5.2
    • Plautus, Captivi, 2.2
    • Plautus, Captivi, 2.3
    • Plautus, Captivi, 4.1
    • Plautus, Captivi, 4.3
    • Plautus, Captivi, prologue.0
    • Plautus, Casina, 2.6
    • Plautus, Casina, 3.2
    • Plautus, Casina, 3.3
    • Plautus, Casina, 3.4
    • Plautus, Casina, 4.3
    • Plautus, Casina, prologue.0
    • Plautus, Epidicus, 1.1
    • Plautus, Epidicus, 2.2
    • Plautus, Epidicus, 3.3
    • Plautus, Epidicus, 4.1
    • Plautus, Menaechmi, 2.2
    • Plautus, Mercator, 1.1
    • Plautus, Mercator, 3.3
    • Plautus, Mercator, 4.1
    • Plautus, Mercator, 4.4
    • Plautus, Mercator, 5.3
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 1.1
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 2.2
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 2.6
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 3.1
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 3.2
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 4.4
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 5.1
    • Plautus, Poenulus, prologue.0
    • Plautus, Truculentus, 1.1
    • Plautus, Truculentus, 1.2
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (4):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: